The history of the XFL spans the entirety of one season, back in 2001. It tried to capitalize on Americans’ hunger for football while serving as an alternative to the widely popular NFL, and that business model failed quickly.
It’s making a comeback, though, with a new plan in order. The league is slated to start back up in January 2020, spearheaded by WWE chairman and founder Vince McMahon, who made the announcement Thursday.
He wants to offer it as an alternative to the current state of the NFL by featuring games that last no longer than two hours, by banning players with criminal records and by prohibiting players from making any kinds of political statements, as many did in the NFL this season by kneeling during the national anthem.
He said it both is and isn’t about the criticisms of the current NFL product.
“The start of this league has nothing to do with the NFL’s troubles,” McMahon told reporters. “What has happened there is their business, and I’m not going to knock those guys, but I am going to learn from their mistakes as anyone would if they were tasked with reimagining a new football league.”
McMahon said that every city is in the discussion to field a team, and he feels he’ll be more prepared for a launch two years down the road than the last time around, when he launched the league just one year after the announcement.
Alternative pro leagues exist in every other major sport but football, but those serve as developmental systems for the main product. The new-look XFL is instead gearing up to combat the NFL, with the understanding that it won’t actually compete with it in a financial sense. It’ll live on McMahon’s funding, at least at first, rather than on the TV revenue it never got in 2001 that doomed the league from surviving.
The sustainability of that product in the long run is in question, as well as how well it will hit with the public. Recent trends have turned some fans away from the NFL product, but it still demands more Americans’ attention than any other sports league. For what some might see as downsides, it also features the best football players in the world, and that will go unchallenged by a league such as the XFL.
Whether the XFL can extend the careers of marketable players who fall out of the NFL ranks such as Johnny Manziel or Tim Tebow remains a question. It’ll feature more teams, but additional stipulations on who can play could cut into that potential.